19 MAY 2016
Palestine’s Attainment of Sustainable Development Goals under Occupation ‘Inconceivable’,
Seminar on Assistance to Palestinian People Told
STOCKHOLM, 19 May — It was simply “inconceivable” that Palestine would be able to achieve its sustainable development objectives while under occupation by Israel, the first plenary session of the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People heard this afternoon.
Macharia Kamau, Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said Palestine was considered the “least desirable, the least inviting and the least livable place on earth”, questioning what that reality said about the conditions on the ground and the prospects for long-term sustainable development.
He went on to recall that the effort to agree the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an intergovernmental process of which he had been a co-chair, had been informed by an inherent sense hope. Throughout the negotiating process, all concerned had agreed that no person and no country should be left behind. “And this goes for Palestine, too,” he emphasized to the Government, non-governmental and civil society representatives gathered in Stockholm, Sweden, for the two-day Seminar aimed at exploring the future of sustainable development in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Daoud al Deek, the State of Palestine’s Assistant Deputy Minister for Social Development, said that failure to attain the Sustainable Development Goals would not be due to a lack of effort on the part of the State or its people, but rather because of the prolonged Israeli occupation. “Don’t leave us behind,” he stressed.
Emphasizing the State of Palestine’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda, he reported that it had launched its new planning cycle to cover 2017-2022, and the Government’s new National Policy Agenda was almost finalized. Furthermore, the Government had created a national team to steer and coordinate efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in wide-scale consultation with civil society and the private sector.
Robert Piper, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, reported that some of the key social indicators coming from Palestine, including those related to literacy, vaccination rates and maternal mortality, were truly impressive. Yet, the economy lagged far behind those social development achievements, and given the continuing occupation, there was a real risk that even those gains would be lost, he cautioned.
Nur Arafeh, a civil society panelist, emphasized that development in Palestine must be based on an economic, political and social process of resistance to the occupation, which was the leading cause of Palestine’s development challenges. There was a huge imbalance of power between Israel and Palestine, and economic development should be based on a strategy of resistance aimed at building a productive Palestinian State that was less reliant on Israel and foreign assistance.
When the floor opened for an interactive discussion, representatives of intergovernmental, non-governmental and civil society organizations expressed frustration over the continuing occupation and raised concerns about the flow of foreign aid to Palestine.
The Seminar will reconvene at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, 20 May, for a plenary discussion on enabling sustainable solutions for a dignified future for Palestine.
The first plenary segment featured presentations by Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations; Robert Piper, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process; Daoud al Deek, Deputy Minister for Social Development, State of Palestine; and Nur Arafeh, Policy Fellow, Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network.
Mr. KAMAU said that discussions about the challenges faced by the State of Palestine under occupation had been taking place since before the birth of many in attendance. Today, Palestine was considered the “least desirable, the least inviting, the least livable place on earth”, he said, questioning what that said about the conditions on the ground. As highlighted by the representative of Lebanon during the opening session, the international community could no longer accept the suffering and abuse occurring in Palestine, he emphasized. The world could no longer take Palestine’s continued suffering for granted, because it could eventually elicit a profoundly negative response as people became disaffected and gave up hope.
He went on to recall that effort to agree the Sustainable Development Goals, an intergovernmental process of which he had been co-chair, had been informed by an inherent sense hope. Those who had worked on the 2030 Agenda believed in a better world for people, and the planet, as well as a better future for all — with greater prosperity, security and peace. At the outset, many had believed it impossible that 193 countries could reach agreement on a universal development plan intended to protect the environment while advancing the well-being of the world’s people. However, throughout that process, it had been agreed by all — including Israel and the State of Palestine — that nobody and no country, should be left behind. “And this goes for Palestine, too,” he emphasized.
It was simply inconceivable to imagine that Palestine, or any other country under occupation, would be able to attain any of the Sustainable Development Goals, he continued. While people usually focused on the difficulties of everyday life in Africa, that continent’s situation today would have been “a million times more miserable” had it still been under colonial occupation, he stressed. Not that long ago, one could count the number of doctors in some countries, yet, today, Kenya had dozens of universities and technical colleges pumping out thousands of professionals every year. The international community must work with those in Israel who wished to see a free and liberated Palestine, in recognition that many in that country supported the idea of a two-State solution.
A multitude of examples across the world demonstrated the fundamental importance of mobilizing domestic resources for development, he said, pointing out that foreign assistance was only a small part of development financing and could not on its own solve development challenges. The State of Palestine would never be able to finance its own development under the current model of occupation. Noting that Palestine had not moved forward over the last 70 years, he said it was, in fact, going backwards, particularly over the last 20 years. The international community had a responsibility to Palestine.
Mr. PIPER said that in many ways, occupied Palestine grappled with challenges similar to those faced by many middle-income countries in trying to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. Yet, the comparison with other nations only took one so far, since there were fundamental differences, given Palestine’s unique situation. The international community must be realistic in terms of what could and could not be achieved in view of the situation on the ground, and acknowledge that there were great challenges to protecting the gains made in Palestine. Despite those realities, the State of Palestine was near the top of the Arab world in terms of several important social indicators, including literacy, vaccination rates and maternal mortality, he said, emphasizing that it was important not to brush over such accomplishments or to take them lightly because they spoke to the efforts of the Government, society and families.
Still, success in social sectors was not matched on the economic side, he cautioned, pointing out that Palestine fell far behind Middle East countries on the economic front, with gross domestic product (GDP) standing at less than one third those of its neighbours. The same was true of its trade-to-GDP ratio, he said, noting also the “tremendous” gap between the Israeli and Palestinian GDP rates. The fate of the Sustainable Development Goals was more closely tied to economic rather than social factors, he said. As in similar middle-income situations, policymaking was especially challenging in Palestine, particularly with regard to the most vulnerable. Yet, comparisons between occupied Palestine and others only provided limited analytical benefit. When one looked at the aggregated data, it was possible to miss the significant and widening divergences within Palestine, including the fact that some citizens had greater opportunities than others to get on a positive development path. Young people were especially vulnerable, many leaving the education system with few transferable skills or employment prospects, he said, stressing that women, especially girls of reproductive age, were particularly at risk.
With regard to employment, he said 40 per cent of women were unemployed compared to 22 per cent of men. The most striking difference between the disaggregated numbers was the tremendous gap between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which were on very different development paths. The differentiated per capita GDP and unemployment rates were notable examples of the disparity of life between the two occupied areas, he said, adding: “Quite simply, Gaza is de-developing in front of our eyes.” The devastating effects of the political crisis were mounting, expanding far beyond the blockade, he said, adding that the way in which the occupation was conducted would make attaining the Sustainable Development Goals that much more difficult for Palestine. Justice for Palestinians whose homes had been demolished through settlement activity was elusive, to say the least, and the rule of law was simply not being respected. Palestine was full of opportunity and risk, he said, noting that some of its social indicators were truly impressive. Yet, given the continuing occupation, there was a real risk that those gains would be lost, he warned.
Mr. AL DEEK said that, if Palestine failed to attain the Sustainable Development Goals, it would not be due to a lack of effort on the part of the State or its people, but rather because of the prolonged occupation. “Don’t leave us behind,” he stressed. Highlighting a number of statistics, he noted that 43 per cent of the 4.8 million Palestinians were refugees. The unemployment rate exceeded 26 per cent, while the poverty rate in Gaza was exceptionally high, at nearly 39 per cent. Generally, there had been no significant progress on ending poverty, providing decent work or enacting environmental protection measures due to a lack of capacity and external funding. Some 2.3 million Palestinians were in need of humanitarian assistance, including 1.3 million in Gaza, and as many as 90,000 there had remained displaced at the end of 2015 due to Israel’s military aggression in 2014.
He went on to state that in the first four months of 2016, the number of Palestinian structures demolished or dismantled and land confiscated by Israeli authorities had surpassed the total for 2015. Furthermore, Israeli restrictions on movement impeded access to services and resources, disrupted family and social life and undermined the right of Palestinians to enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights. The withholding of tax revenues collected by Israel also increased insecurity in public budgets administered by the Government of Palestine, he said, pointing out that the annual loss amounted to $285 million, or 2.2 per cent of GDP. Nevertheless, the State of Palestine was committed to Agenda 2030 and had launched its new planning cycle to cover 2017-2022, he said, adding that its new National Policy Agenda was almost finalized.
The Government had created a national team to steer and coordinate national efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, in wide-scale consultation with civil society and the private sector, he continued. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics would lead coordination efforts for monitoring and reporting on the Sustainable Development Goals, while also developing a national database to respond to targets that would be reflected in national policies and strategies. Key priorities would include ending poverty, improving basic services for the poor, creating transformative social protection policies, incorporating elements of social responsibility, and promoting civil society engagement, as well as citizen involvement. Policies aimed at reducing inequality gaps between women, young people, children and the disabled would be implemented, he said, underlining Palestine’s need for support from the international community and the United Nations to meet those goals. Ending the occupation would be a prerequisite for sustainable development, he said.
Ms. ARAFEH, speaking via video teleconference, said that all issues addressed in the Sustainable Development Goals were inherently political in nature. Gaza was experiencing an increasing state of “de-development” due to the continuing occupation, and East Jerusalem was a marginalized economy with a poverty rate of 75 per cent. Meanwhile, the West Bank, including Area C, which had been sidelined and rendered “off limits” to Palestinian development, was a fragmented economy, dependent on Israel for trade, finance, energy, water and other needs while also remaining over-dependent on international aid. It was important to note that Israel was benefiting from donor money intended for Palestine, she emphasized, citing a report which indicated that 78 per cent of that donor money was spent on importing goods from Israel.
Development in Palestine must be based on an economic, political and social process of resistance to the occupation, which was the leading cause of Palestine’s development challenges, she continued. Given the huge imbalance in power between Israel and Palestine, economic development should be based on a strategy of resistance in order to build a productive Palestinian State that was less reliant on Israel and foreign assistance. Production was the key to development, she said, stressing that the goal, for Palestine should be to increase self-sufficiency and reduce reliance on Israel, while laying the groundwork for economic sovereignty. Food sovereignty would be a key element of that process, she said, noting that Israel had weakened the agriculture sector and rendered Palestine dependent on the Israeli food market and food imports. Food sovereignty was defined as the right of each community to define its own food and agriculture systems, she said, describing it as a precondition for achieving food security. In that regard, local production should be a priority for Palestine over dependence on food imports, she added.
Underlining the need to promote the industrial sector as a means of reducing dependency on the Israeli economy, she called for an emphasis on promoting the most profitable industries that would have a positive impact on employment rates. As a means of reducing dependency, it was important to limit the flow of goods from Israel into Palestine, including through boycotts, she said, adding that Palestinian trade should be re-oriented and geared towards Arab economies that were more favourable to the Palestinian situation. Regarding education, there was a need for initiatives to ensure that the occupation did not continue to violate the right of Palestinians to learn. Israeli policies geared toward obstructing the ability of Palestinians to seek education were not an “accidental causality”, she pointed out, underling the importance of instilling a love of knowledge in students. Teachers must be trained to work in challenging conditions, she added.
Reiterating that resistance should become a way of life for all Palestinians, she said they deserved sovereignty and control over their own resources. The international community had a great deal of responsibility in that regard and must translate its rhetoric into action by exerting pressure on Israel to end its illegal occupation. The occupying Power was obliged to ensure the welfare of the occupied population, as well as the development of the occupied territory. Israel was only the de facto administrator of the occupied lands and its continuing possession of Palestinian natural resources was a violation of international law. To date, aid had been ineffective in securing peace in Palestine, and the key precondition for effective aid was political intervention to end the occupation. There was need for a new assistance model that would support Palestinian resistance to occupation while securing their rights, she said, underscoring that aid should not be seen as a substitute for ending the occupation.
In the ensuing discussion, representatives of Governments, non-governmental organizations and civil society expressed concern about the lack of progress in ending the occupation and exchanged ideas on the challenges of providing foreign assistance to Palestine.
RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) described his frustrations over the difficulty of discussing the question of Palestine in the Security Council, recalling that, in February, when his country had held that organ’s presidency, he had requested Palestine’s inclusion on the formal agenda eight different times, with very little success. The status quo was “unsustainable”, he emphasized.
Ms. ARAFEH, responding to a question from the representative of Bolivia, said that, in her view, everything that happened in Palestine was driven by politics.
Asked by a Palestinian journalist how confident she was that a two-State solution could be attained, she said it was “dead at the moment”.
The representative of the Palestine Solidarity Association noted with concern that Swedish diplomats had not even been able to visit Gaza due to their country’s recognition of the State of Palestine and subsequent Israeli travel restrictions. The international community was not exerting enough pressure on Israel to end the occupation.
An academic expert from Drew University in the United States emphasized that the majority of Palestinian citizens did not actually live in Palestine, policy decisions made by the Palestinian Authority therefore had no impact on their well-being.
Mr. PIPER responded to a question on foreign aid from a member of the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People by saying that aid was, in fact, primarily political. Official development assistance (ODA) to Palestine had dropped by 30 to 40 per cent over the last five years for primarily political reasons, relating to progress towards the State-building benchmarks set by the Oslo agreements and the absence of a political horizon to the crisis. Concerning the diversion of aid to the Israeli economy, he said the issue was not how the aid was distributed, but rather the structure of the Palestinian economy.
Mr. AL DEEK said the international community, in coordination with the State of Palestine, must revise the overall approach to aid, as it clearly was not having the desired impact on the ground. Regarding the situation of women in Palestine, he expressed concern that some past approaches had actually disempowered them, and for that reason, the mainstreaming of gender issues would be a critical priority in the State’s future development planning model.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, said he was proud of his Government’s transparency on its long-term development planning, as well as the critical analysis and recommendations provided by young Palestinians, who were “lights of hope” and signs of Palestine’s strength. It was clear that Palestine was suffering immensely under the occupation, yet the Palestinian people were resilient, with a good understanding of their own capabilities. Noting that Israel was stealing millions of dollars from the Palestinian economy, he emphasized that the occupation must end in order to enable the Palestinian people to realize their full potential and the Sustainable Development Goals.
For information media. Not an official record.